I spent several hours today with friends of mine from college, and their two small kids. We had tea rolls and Vietnamese coffee and then we went to their lovely house with a big lawn and large cats and overstuffed couches. Afterwards I came back to J’s apartment, ate some ice cream, watched a documentary, and thought about my intentionally childfree life.
Today I was looking at some photographs for sale, by a local woman, and I thought of my perpetual plan to do something with my pictures. There are so many things I want to do that depend on having my own space and time, on being able to control that, as much as anyone can. In addition to knowing that I don’t want the life that comes with motherhood, I know I don’t have the wherewithal for it.
Babies are gross. And sometimes charming. A (the 9 month old I saw today) makes these growling sounds that are kind of awesome. When I growled, she’d growl back at me, which made me feel gleeful and accomplished. JT, my friend and the mother of A, astounds me with her calmness and ability to multitask. There was so much going on at any one moment that would make me nervous and suffocated and anxious and itchy and fill me with an unbearable longing for quiet and aloneness. I don’t doubt that JT has moments when she loses it, but still, I thought, you really, really have to fucking want this. And then, even if you do, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be good at it. If you don’t have the mental or physical ability or desire to sustain the adventure of parenting, and to roll with the demands of it, it seems that you can only get so far. My own mother is a great example of that, I’ve never doubted that I was a wanted and a loved child, but her fragile mental state, the result of years of financial, familial, and physical stress, couldn’t sustain the reality of being a parent. I wasn’t the daughter she’d bet on, for better or worse.
One of the most annoying things people say when they find out that someone (usually a woman) doesn’t want children is, “You’d make such a good parent.” In the first place, a person doesn’t have to do something just because it’s possible, and in the other, why is it completely implausible that someone who seems to have the ability to be a good parent might want to channel those abilities into something else? For the three hundredth time in my life, I wonder why our view of everything is so narrow.
Even though I intend to remain childfree, I will probably always be thinking about this. It won’t go away, because my friends will have/keep having babies, and people will wonder when/if I’ll change my mind. There will always be the assumption that my life is incomplete, which I will of course internalize, because that’s how this sort of thing works. Women who don’t have children are blamed for not fulfilling a biological destiny, and women who do have them are castigated for not doing it “right”. I always think about Gloria Steinem, who shocked a lot of feminists when she got married, and was once asked by a reporter if she regretted never having had children. Another feminist writer, in an article about that interview, wondered if Steinem had had children, if she would have been asked if she regretted that.